Tuesday, October 6, 2009

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TheAppleBlog, published by and for the day-to-day Apple user, is a prominent source for news, reviews, walkthroughs, and real life application of all Apple products.
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  • Tap Tap Revenge 3 Arrives in the App Store, Features In-App Purchasing

    ttr3Tapulous took the App Store by storm with its inaugural Tap Tap Revenge rhythm music gaming title. It followed that up with the no less successful Tap Tap Revenge 2, Tap Tap Dance, and various Tap Tap games branded for individual artists. Tap Tap Revenge 3 (iTunes link) hit the App Store today, bringing with it new features and some unique iPhone 3.0 capabilities.

    The official page for the app just went live over at Tapulous’s site. The app is the first in the revenge series not to retail for free — it costs 99 cents, and potentially will result in far more revenue via in-app purchasing.

    For those of you worried that Tap Tap Revenge is now all about the Benjamins, fear not, there are still plenty of free tracks available for download, with more planned as future updates. It’s basically the same set-up that existed with TTR2, but without the need to buy special separate themed apps from Coldplay, etc., in order to get that bonus content. Instead, you use in-game “coins” to acquire new songs.

    ttr_mainOpening up the app, I found right away that TTR3 was quite different from its predecessors. The first thing I had to do was choose a username and an avatar. The avatar seems to be randomly generated from a stock selection of different parts, so I of course spent far too long randomizing my appearance until I found something somewhat acceptable.

    After that, I checked out the store to see what I could spend my hard-won coins on, and was not surprised to find avatar items and clothing among the available purchases. You use coins to buy avatar items, but luckily coins are earned in-game and don’t cost any actual money.

    ttr_clothesBuying tracks uses the in-app purchasing feature introduced in iPhone OS 3.0, and will prompt you with the amount the item you’ve chosen costs and a dialog that allows you to either buy or cancel the transaction. Tracks come in Packs, each featuring two or more songs. I tried purchasing a Blink-182 track pack for $2.99, and then thought better of it.

    ttr_purchaseThe actual rhythm game part of Tap Tap Revenge 3 works just like you remember it, if you played any of the predecessors. Colored orbs travel down three lanes, and must be tapped when they reach the bottom of your iPhone’s screen in order to score points and rack up a high score. Your score affects the number of points you earn, which you can then spend on avatar items.

    ttr_ingameSong selection in the in-app store is a bit hit or miss, and features a lot of content already available on previous installments, but the game’s only been out for less than a day, so I suspect the library will fill out quite nicely in time. If you liked the previous games, and the added incentive of a growing library featuring top artists and a built-in rewards system appeals to you, 99 cents is well worth the price of admission for TTR3.

    It's 3D Week at GigaOM Pro! Read our latest report, "3DTV Market is Ready for Takeoff."


  • AT&T Now Allows Internet Voice Calls On Its Wireless Network

    attlogoRumors were circulating earlier in the day, but now AT&T has made official its plans to allow Internet calling services to be used with its wireless network. That’s great news for iPhone users, at whom the news was mostly targeted, since it means we could shortly see Skype, Vonage, and Google Voice apps appear on the app store with full 3G functionality.

    The official line is that AT&T is responding to customer expectation and demand considering the introduction of VOIP-capable devices like the iPhone, but in reality, with the FCC investigation into wireless industry competition hanging over its head, AT&T is probably trying to fend off government-mandated penalties in advance.

    According to the Associated Press;

    FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, one of three Democrats on the commission, wants to impose net neutrality rules to ensure that broadband providers don’t abuse their power over Internet access to favor their own services or harm competitors. His plan has alarmed wireless carriers because it would apply these rules across different types of broadband networks, including wireless networks.

    AT&T’s move is a calculated one, designed to show that the industry can successfully self-regulate without government interference. It’s kind of equivalent to the kid who wouldn’t share at recess readily giving up a toy once another kid actually leaves to tell the teacher.

    Whatever the reason behind the decision to relax its rules for network use, the real winners here are iPhone users. If Skype, Google Voice, and other internet telephony apps make their way into the App Store, iPhone users will be able to avoid artificially high rates for long distance and contract minute overages by taking advantage of their existing data plans. It’s one more step towards flat data rates for all cell features, which is what should be in place anyway.

    Of course, it’s still up to Apple to approve any VOIP apps before iPhone users can take advantage of the new rules. I’m willing to bet that Cupertino had a significant hand in convincing AT&T that this was a wise move, considering the negative press the computer company was receiving over the Google Voice debacle. Apple spokeswoman Natalie Kerris had this to say about the announcement:

    “We are very happy that AT&T is now supporting VOIP applications. We will be amending our developer agreements to get VOIP apps on the App Store and in customers’ hands as soon as possible.”

    The introduction of 3G VOIP will no doubt have an impact on AT&T’s network, which has seen numerous problems in the past due to the increased demand placed upon it by iPhone users. The wireless provider seems to have made improvements, as evidenced by the relatively smooth introduction of MMS earlier this month, but it remains to be seen if they can also cope with this new load.

    It is 3D Week at GigaOM Pro! Read our latest reports on the future of 3D TV, mobile, computing and movies.


  • 14 Ways to Be Kind to Your Battery


    A little over ten days ago Apple launched a shiny new Apple and the Environment microsite showcasing the company’s commitment to greener production and business practise. So I thought it would be appropriate to take a leaf (pun intended) from Apple’s book and look at ways to be more energy efficient in my daily computing.

    Mac OS X has some great power-saving features for MacBook users, but there are simple things you can do to squeeze those precious extra minutes of useful life out of your battery. And, to prove it to myself, I'm doing all of my writing today on my MacBook Pro in my garden, without the power cord. Oh yes, I'm living life on the edge, people!

    Some of these tips are screamingly obvious; others contribute only modest energy savings. In aggregate, though, these tips can help you get significant life out of a single charge. So here they are, presented in no particular order of importance.

    1. Dim the screen

    Relatively speaking, that LED panel uses a fabulous amount of power, and, most of the time, simply doesn't need to be so super bright. Turn it down to a comfortable level where you don't have to squint to see what you're doing.

    2. Dim the Keyboard

    The optical fiber backlighting in the keyboard can sometimes be brought to life even when you can see the keys perfectly well. When that happens, you can probably afford to turn it down a bit.

    3. Stop Playing DVDs/CDs…

    Your optical drive uses a motor. And a laser. They exhaust batteries in no time.

    4. …and Stop Playing Video/Music from the HDD

    Sorry, I know you stopped using your Optical Drive, but playing music or video is a power-guzzling process irrespective of where the source files happen to be.

    5. Spin Down That Disc

    Avoid doing anything that requires the hard drive to spin. Be mindful of the applications you run, and avoid those which require lots of read/write activity. Also, pop in to your System Preferences → Energy Saver and select "Put the hard disk(s) to sleep whenever possible."

    6. Go Easy on Your CPU

    You can't put the CPU to sleep, but you can go easy on it. Cycles spent crunching numbers equals battery drain. Quit anything you absolutely do not need. Mail, iCal, iTunes and goodness knows what else, even when hidden, are claiming CPU cycles.

    7. Select the Right Video Card

    If you own a late 2008 model MacBook Pro or later, you'll have two graphic chips at your disposal. There's the NVIDIA 9600, ideal for web browsing and text editing, or the more powerful 9600M, a better choice for gaming and video editing. In your System Preferences, choose Energy Saver and select Graphics: Better Battery Life. This will tell Mac OS X to use the 9600 chipset rather than its power-crazed big brother.

    8. Internal Fans

    Your MacBook should do a decent job of managing its own internal cooling, but if you're competent doing this yourself, you might consider using a tool like smcFanControl to spin those things down. Just don't blame me if you melt your MacBook as a result. (Seriously, if you don't know what you're doing, don't even try this tip!)

    9. Switch Off the Radios

    Your Wi-Fi and bluetooth radios don't have to be on all the time, do they? If preserving power matters to you, turn them off.

    10. Ditch the Mouse

    If your bluetooth radio is turned off, you can pack away that wireless Mighty Mouse. Using a wired Mighty Mouse? You should pack that away, too; that laser is sucking-up the juice.

    11. Unplug That iPod!

    If you keep your iPod or iPhone connected to your MacBook, remove them. Even if you're not actively syncing them (and you're not — if you followed my advice, iTunes is turned off by now) they're keeping their own batteries topped-up via that good old USB copper. Your MacBook's battery will thank you for unplugging them.

    12. External Drives

    If you're using USB-powered external hard drives for backup/storage, unplug them (but be aware this means your backup routine may be disrupted!) Even if you're not using your external drive all the time, remember that if you invoke an Open or Save As dialogue, those connected storage devices will spin-up on the off-chance you want to use them. If you don't, that was power wasted!

    13. Close the Lid

    If you are going to be inactive for a while, consider putting the machine to sleep (or if you’ll be inactive for a long time, go one better and shut-down completely.)

    14. Plan Ahead

    If it's at all practicable, plan what you are going to do before you even power-up your MacBook.

    So there you have it. Combine these tips into your daily mobile-compute and you ought to see some serious improvements in productive, working battery life. Also, remember to let your battery fully drain at least once a month.

    How well did I do here in the garden today? I squeezed about four hours out of my battery before I had to plug in. Give it a try, you might be surprised at just how much power your little lithium friend can muster.

    How do you maximize battery life? Short of actually plugging in to the nearest wall or carrying spare batteries (that's cheating!), what tips have I missed from this list? Share them in the comments below.

    Subscribe to GigaOM Pro and gain access to our Webinar, "Biggest Opportunities in the Smart Grid," on Oct. 7, 2009.


  • From Newton to Bathroom Web Surfing: The History of the Fabled iTablet

    The New York Times added some noise yesterday to the seemingly-unending buzz surrounding Apple’s legendary Tablet device. I say “legendary” in the sense that, despite a complete and total absence of any sort of confirmation from Apple such a device even exists, it has already generated acres of column inches.

    The NYT puts it somewhat more prosaically; “[tablet devices have] …gripped the imagination of tech executives, bloggers and gadget hounds, who are projecting their wildest dreams onto these literal blank slates.”

    To recap very briefly; the latest round of rumors tell us the tablet will have a 10.7 inch screen, run the iPhone OS, feature an iPhone-like curved back, come in both 3G chip and non-3G chip enabled flavors and offer 720p resolution. It is a replacement for printed books and magazines, not a replacement for netbooks.

    So What’s New?

    The NYT article offers a succinct overview of Apple’s tablet endeavors, starting with the Newton MessagePad in 1993 and taking a sideways look at Microsoft’s tablet vision of the early noughties. Where it gets really interesting, however, is in quotes about Apple’s tablet from the company’s former employees, who, naturally, remain nameless. Says the New York Times:

    Apple has been working on [the] tablet since at least 2003… One prototype, developed in 2003, used PowerPC microchips made by I.B.M., which were so power-hungry that they quickly drained the battery.

    "It couldn't be built. The battery life wasn't long enough, the graphics performance was not enough to do anything and the components themselves cost more than $500," said Joshua A. Strickland, a former Apple engineer whose name is on several of the company's patents for multitouch technology.

    This touches on a point I made last week, that a reason for the apparent failure of Microsoft’s Tablet PC was its overly ambitious vision. Simply put, Microsoft’s vision for tablet computing was too far ahead of what was practical and affordable for manufacturers to build. The components of the early 2000’s were not small enough, converged enough, power efficient or reliable.

    While Microsoft left those problems in the hands of its OEM partners to figure out, Apple chose the opposite path — it decided not to release anything at all. In hindsight, it seems that was the smarter decision.

    Bathroom Browsing

    Beyond the hardware limitations of the day, the article explains that subsequent tablets were repeatedly shelved because “…Mr. Jobs, whose incisive critiques are often memorable, asked, in essence, what they were good for besides surfing the Web in the bathroom.”

    While hardware challenges can eventually be overcome, the problem of defining clear purpose is a harder one to solve. In discussions about Apple’s tablet, I’ve found that people fall into one of two types; those who immediately see its potential purpose, and those who don’t. It’s a bit like Twitter that way. Finding a clear purpose for the tablet is apparently an issue with which Apple has been wrestling:

    "I can imagine something like the iPhone with a much bigger screen being a gorgeous device with great capacity, but I don't know where I would fit that into my life," said a former Apple executive, who declined to be named because of Apple's secrecy policies, but who anticipates an Apple tablet next year. "Those are the debates that have been happening inside Apple for quite some time."

    For what it’s worth, I have absolutely no difficulty figuring out where the tablet would sit in my personal computing ecosystem. When I need to free myself from my desk and go mobile, I currently have two choices: my MacBook Pro or my iPhone. The former is overkill in size, weight and computing power. The latter is perfectly capable — but just too darned small.

    When I stop to think about it long enough, I am astonished I don’t already have a machine that sits somewhere between those two devices. So, figuring out where a tablet would fit in my daily life is a no-brainer. But then, I’m a geek, and hardly representative of Apple’s core target market.

    Will Steve Jobs throw the proverbial spanner in the works again? It doesn’t seem wise to delay the project much longer, when faced with growing demand for touch-based, internet-connected consumer electronics (a market that existed before the iPhone but, arguably, only found its feet riding on Apple’s success with that device).

    And it’s a computing paradigm that suffered a shaky start, to be sure. Microsoft’s first efforts in Tablet Town failed to inspire anyone’s imagination. But with the Courier project coming to light in recent weeks, it’s clear Redmond is still seriously pursuing a touch-based future. While Microsoft isn’t entirely there yet, Windows 7’s touch functionality takes a huge step in that direction.

    I’m sure Apple isn’t the slightest bit concerned over how long it takes to get the tablet right. If the NYT’s sources are correct, it’s a device Apple has been working on for most of this decade. I wonder though, after all this time, after all this speculation and analysis and hype… will the product Apple finally announces early next year have any chance of living up to our expectations?

    It is 3D Week at GigaOM Pro! Read our latest reports on the future of 3D TV, mobile, computing and movies.


  • Apple Leaves U.S. Chamber of Commerce Due to Climate Stance

    us_chamber_of_commerceThe U.S. Chamber of Commerce is alienating its member companies with a hard-line stance it’s taken against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and climate change legislation currently making the rounds in the Senate. The latest casualty in the conflict generated by the Chamber’s controversial position is Apple, which yesterday gave up its membership with the organization.

    The specific stance Apple took issue with is the Chamber’s position against the idea that the EPA should regulate greenhouse gas emissions, using the authority it already has to do so under the Clean Air Act. Most agree that the EPA doesn’t actually want to do this, but that it’s a last resort measure in case the Democratic climate change bill that passed the house in June and now faces the Senate ultimately fails.

    Apple spokeswoman Catherine Novelli wrote to Thomas Donohue, the Chamber’s president, explaining Apple’s decision to leave:

    We strongly object to the chamber’s recent comments opposing the EPA’s effort to limit greenhouse gases. Apple supports regulating greenhouse gas emissions, and it is frustrating to find the chamber at odds with us in this effort.

    Three other firms, California-based Pacific Gas and Electric and Exelon, and New Mexico’s PNM Resources, have all left the Chamber of Commerce based on the same policy decision. Both GE and Johnson & Johnson have both issued statements making clear their disagreement with the Commerce’s official stance. Nike stepped down from the executive branch of the Commerce, but maintains its membership, and made clear its position in a statement of its own:

    As we’ve stated, we fundamentally disagree with the US Chamber of Commerce on the issue of climate change and their recent action challenging the EPA is inconsistent with our view that climate change is an issue in need of urgent action.

    In the past, Apple has made its political leanings known when it felt the issue was important enough. When Proposition 8 was announced, Apple donated $100,000 to oppose the bill. The decision was met with strong reactions from both sides of the debate, with some questioning the right of a company to come out so publicly in favor of one side or another on such a contentious issue, and some lauding the uncharacteristic show of corporate political action.

    I imagine this latest display of a political stance will be greeted with less controversy, since many see the value of climate change legislation. And the departure of a high profile company like Apple will do much to raise awareness of the issue in the business world. Still, the Chamber still counts more than three million companies among its membership, so the departure of four of those companies is unlikely do much effect the organization’s relevance.

    It's 3D Week at GigaOM Pro! Read our latest report, "3DTV Market is Ready for Takeoff."


  • Verizon Ad Mocking AT&T Pays Homage to iPhone

    “There’s a map for that” is the catchphrase for a new ad from Verizon that plays upon the ubiquitous advertising meme for the iPhone and Apple’s App Store. However, the ad has nothing to do with Verizon’s own application store, instead highlighting the disparity of 3G coverage between Verizon and AT&T.


    The ad shows some guy playing Rock Band on a Samsung Rogue—ugh—while walking down the street. As a voiceover rhetorically asks if you want to know why 3G coverage works so well on Verizon’s network, the coverage map pops up above his head and we hear that “there’s a map for that.”

    When an AT&T customer, presumably using an iPhone and sporting a goatee—where’s his beret and cup of free trade expresso?—shakes his head at his phone, the voice asks about “spotty coverage.” The AT&T coverage map then appears and we again hear that “there’s a map for that.” Ha, ha, I guess, but then I thought about it.

    Is it really a good idea for Verizon to highlight its own apparent iPhone envy, not to mention the oblique mention of the wildly successful App Store? It depends on who Verizon is advertising to, exactly. Via Silicon Alley Insider, a research note from Morgan Stanley analyst Kathryn Huberty remarks on the possibility of Apple moving away from the exclusivity agreement with AT&T.

    “In the top six iPhone markets that are still exclusive, we believe that Apple's market share could rise to 10%, on average, in a multiple carrier distribution model from 4% today.

    Her analysis is that Apple could double iPhone sales by moving to a multi-carrier business model, the logic being most individuals choose carriers over phones, even if the phone is arguably the greatest telecommunication device in the history of the universe. Sure, Apple will no doubt lose the pound of revenue flesh they got from AT&T for exclusivity, but that could be made up in volume.

    In this ad, Verizon could be speaking to iPhone users on AT&T’s network, who then pass along their yearning for Verizon in increasing numbers to Apple. What might come of that could be a new map in 2010 and beyond, the iPhone on Verizon’s next-gen LTE network.

    Subscribe to GigaOM Pro and gain access to our Webinar, "Biggest Opportunities in the Smart Grid," on Oct. 7, 2009.


  • Exclusivity Ending: iPhone Coming to Bell, Telus in Canada

    bell_telusFirst it was Orange and Vodafone in the UK announcing plans to offer the iPhone, thus ending O2’s exclusive deal with Apple, and now another member of the Commonwealth is following suit. In Canada, where Rogers is currently the sole iPhone provider, two of the the other three major carriers, Bell Canada and Telus, have just announced that they, too, will offer the iPhone.

    As was the case in the UK, Rogers saw a huge sales surge thanks to the iPhone when it was first introduced in Canada last year when the iPhone 3G was released. Telus and Bell have been playing catch-up ever since, in a market that has traditionally been pretty evenly split.

    Too evenly split, if you ask people who live in Canada (i.e., me). Virtually no competition exists in the wireless market because only Rogers, Bell and Telus are allowed to offer service (relative newcomer Virgin is also involved, but they remain a low-cost provider and don’t mess with the big boys too much). As a result, the three rarely make any big moves to try and win away subscribers from the other two, so prices and contract requirements stay high. Very high.

    Both Bell and Telus will be adding GSM capabilities to their existing CDMA 3G networks, in preparation for the 2010 Vancouver Olympic games. The fact that Rogers experienced 7 percent growth over the past year despite the recession, and that iPhone users spend on average one and a half times what the normal wireless customer does per month, probably also had something to do with the addition.

    Bell will launch its GSM network beginning next month, and will begin selling the iPhone at the same time, according to sources speaking to The Globe and Mail, and an official release early this morning. It isn’t yet clear when Telus will begin offering GSM service, but the source reports that they will officially announce partnerships with Apple as early as today or tomorrow, and will begin selling the device in time for the launch of its new networks.

    Clearly, Rogers hadn’t worked out any kind of exclusivity deal with Cupertino following the launch of the iPhone 3GS, probably owing to the fact that neither of its competitors even had the correct technology in place to allow the iPhone to function. As far as I know, this is the first instance of mobile providers changing the nature of their network rather than just asking a hardware manufacturer for a CDMA version of a device, something which I doubt Apple would respond favorably to anyway.

    As of now, Rogers’ pricing for the iPhone is in line with U.S. pricing, but the subsidy is actually heavier because of the exchange rate. The provider does require a 3-year contract from new subscribers, though. It’s unclear yet whether Bell or Telus will offer a better deal. If either did, the iPhone could be the first step towards a drastically changed Canadian wireless landscape.

    It is 3D Week at GigaOM Pro! Read our latest reports on the future of 3D TV, mobile, computing and movies.


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